Improvisational theater games for people with Parkinson’s and Care Partners

Improvisational Theatre Games for people with Parkinson’s Disease and their care partners is not just fun but therapeutic.

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a movement disorder that affects up to 1 million people in the US and doctors diagnose 60,000 new cases each year. Improvisational Theater Games, based on the work of Viola Spolin, are being used clinically all over the world. Improv classes are being offered for stress management, Autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and other neuromuscular diseases.

With Parkinson’s disease, there are accompanying problems with facial rigidity (or masking), gait impairment characterized by a stuttering gait as well as anxiety and depression. Some of the Improvisational exercises we use are directly related to these issues.

We do an exercise called “Show, don’t tell, your feelings” where students have to use facial muscles to portray a feeling. This exercise is important as students can recognize the need to use their muscles to indicate their emotions. Parkinson’s Disease can be isolating not only for the individual with PD but for the family as well. In these eight -week classes, participants work with partners and in small groups to play a variety of improv exercises each week, while learning about improvisational theatre principles. In these lively classes, participants get a chance to express themselves non-verbally through movement and music activities. To aid in cognition and memory skills, improvisational games present fun challenges to solve.

There is growing research on the therapeutic benefits of Improvisational Theatre Games for people with PD. The neurology department of Northwestern University has partnered with Second City since 2015 researching the benefits of teaching improv to people with PD and their caregivers_. Their research showed that improvisational theatre games help to cultivate focus, improve communication, and promote well- being. Our groups have 8-10 participants. We begin by explaining Acceptance and “Yes, and…. “ We also focus on the concept that there are no mistakes, only gifts. Acceptance is an important concept as people with PD have difficulty accepting their disease. The idea that they don’t have to like it but rather accept the reality can be a way to help with the denial that often accompanies this disorder. This holds true for the care partners as they too are often in denial. Allowing time for games, no one is pressured to speak quickly and others don’t try to “interpret” is also important especially for care partners as they become used to “doing” everything for their partner and often end up controlling and, in some cases, demeaning their partner. I use a brief mindfulness exercise in all classes as it gives them time to slow down and calm their thoughts.

Some of the games I use that are very effective and easy to learn are:

  1. Everybody Go
  2. Pass the Sound
  3. Show don’t tell (a feeling)
  4. Mirror
  5. Story Spine 
  6. Zip Zap Zop
  7. Three changes
  8. Gibberish vocal warm-ups
  9. Gibberish Translator

Even if folks are confined to wheelchairs we can make accommodations. I’ve seen wonderful improvements in many of my students and am honored to work with these brilliant, genius improvisers.

Margot Escott, LCSW is a psychotherapist in Naples for 34 years and has been involved with Naples Parkinson Association of South Florida for over 20 years. She has received improv training from Gary Schwartz, Craig Price, Jimmy Carrane and Stephanie Anderson. She has taught and performed improv comedy including mental health practitioners and was recently a featured speaker in Chicago at the “First Annual Yes, and Mental Health Conference” in 2017. Her podcast, “Improv Interviews” is at https://margotescott.com/podcast/


[1] Laughter is the best medicine: The Second City improvisation as an intervention for Parkinson’s disease (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353802016304321

Northwestern Medical partners with Second City for Improv for Parkinson’s

http://parkinson.org/blog/research/comedy-clinical-study

Improv as Therapy

Gulfshore Life Magazine
Melanie Pefinis
February 2019 (Pages 63-64)

The Naples Players put on a great show, as we theatergoers know. But maybe not all of us know that the 65-year-old institution seeks to educate our community as well as entertain it. There are the KidzAct youth program, internship opportunities, diverse creative workshop offerings for adults–and inclusive classes for people with additional needs, including improv for individuals with autism and those with social anxiety.

Margot Escott was familiar with the mission, so when she approached the players about bringing her own improv classes to the company, she knew the techniques she used with Parkinson’s patients would fit right in.

Continue reading “Improv as Therapy”

Parkinson’s improv therapy tickles Naples’ patients’ funny bone

Parkinson’s improv therapy tickles Naples’ patients’ funny bone
By Harriet Howard Heithaus Naples Daily News – November, 2017

Read about how improvisational theatre can benefit those with Parkinson’s and their care partners.

This improvisational theater class won’t teach pratfalls or stage entrances. But the Parkinson’s disease patients who are learning elements of that art with therapist Margot Escott can count on broad smiles and hearty laughter.

Click here to view a list of current classes

Continue reading “Parkinson’s improv therapy tickles Naples’ patients’ funny bone”

PARKINSON’S & ME

In 1997 my father, Ivan Escott, Jr. was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was a lucky coincidence that this was the year that the Parkinson Association of South Florida (PASFI) was founded. I had the opportunity to speak at a meeting with the founding members of PASFI before they were incorporated so knew about their mission. A few weeks after that, my dad received his PD diagnosis. How fortunate we were to know there was a place where he could be involved, receive education and support. Continue reading “PARKINSON’S & ME”

Caregiver Support through Therapy

Caregiver Support through Therapy
Naples Daily News

Offering support for caregivers

Margot Escott was profiled in the Naples Daily News in Florida about the importance of offering a support system for people who take care of loved ones. The newspaper reported that Escott and her husband took care of her father when he was suffering from the effects of Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

Continue reading “Caregiver Support through Therapy”